Monday, January 31, 2011

(Contented Sigh)

Aah, it's birthday week. Best week of my year. I have tried to keep the week free of non-essential appointments, jobs or errands and plan to pamper and enjoy myself to the extent a mom of three on a reasonable budget can.

Here's what I have lined up so far, plus I have a few more ideas I might squeeze in.

Today, Poppy and I had an unprecedented free morning. After all the drop-offs, we couldn't go home because it was the cleaning ladies' day (already a great way to start birthday week), and we like to stay out of their way. So we went out to breakfast at a bakery I've wanted to try. Watch the VGP for a review soon, but here's one word for you: beignets. Then, with an hour to burn before picking up Ginger, we browsed at Barnes & Noble. (Browsing? What's that?) I flipped through some design mags, while keeping Poppy stocked with Cheerios, and ended up in the DVD room - they are having a buy-2-dvds-get-the-third-free sale. So I got three kids' shows to hold in store for desperate snow days or long road trips (Strawberry Shortcake, Knuffle Bunny and Madeline's Great Adventures.)

Tuesday - nothing planned yet - maybe a normal day? Or maybe something awesome because it's birthday week.

Wednesday - MY BIRTHDAY! Special snack to preschool (not for my birthday, it just happens to be our assigned day), special cookie-cutting kindergarten activity after school for 100th day of school, Dessert Club (rescheduled from snowy last week.)

Thursday - ED's BIRTHDAY! MOM's BIRTHDAY! Georgetown Cupcake? (Holy crap, did you know they have moved to a bigger space and have a reality show on TLC? It's obviously been too long since I've been there. But I can vouch, they can back up all the hype with the goods. Those cupcakes are SO GOOD.) Out to dinner as a family.

Friday - Our new door, the one we responsibly got ourselves for Christmas, is installed. Crossing fingers we like the color. Girl's night out to another bakery I've been wanting to try.

Saturday - Maybe use my SpaFinder gift certificate for a massage? I need to make some calls. At night I am taking Ed on a birthday date - it seems to be my turn. Our birthdays and anniversary are 6 months apart so we kind of take turns planning the date but we always forget whose turn it is so it's just whoever has an idea. This year I did and I would love to tell you about it but sometimes Ed graces my blog with his presence so mum's the word. But I guess it doesn't give too much away to say we're going to dinner and then something else.

Sunday - Family party with Grandma, Grandpa and Aunt Janet. Very nearly the same as the family party we had last week for Ginger. But instead of pepperoni pizza we will probably have something like steak and potatoes. And I'm thinking Italian cream cake? We shall see.

Of course we always stretch Birthday Week into Birthday Month but I can't really sustain the life of leisure that long, so things like grocery shopping, Costco, the cleaners, laundry, making dinner, etc. will have to resume. But for now here's to a week of contented sighs.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The 4-Year-Old

Ginger has turned four. Creating her baby book over the last year has given me the needed outlet for sentimentalism so this post will just be about her now and her birthday. We love birthdays around here.
There seems no avoiding at least three celebrations for each kids' birthday - school party, family party, friend party. Some families combine them but we haven't gotten that smooth yet.

So last Friday we sent chocolate chip cupcakes to school, with balloon toothpicks inserted. (Watch the VGP for the birthday recipe lowdown.) She came home wearing a crown with hot-glued plastic jewels on. Sunday was the family party - triple layer dark chocolate cake, chocolate ice cream, #4 candle, and too many presents (so sue me. Diego pillow from Grandma and Grandpa among the favorites.) Her little peewee group friends from last year are all spread out at different preschools this year, so she wanted to have them over for a party/reunion. That's next weekend and that will be a different post.

I have this idea to interview each girl on her birthday, to take a snapshot of her interests, language, and preferences, but I'm still figuring out how I want to do it exactly. Last year I interviewed Hazel on her 5th birthday, took notes on some scrap of paper, and promptly lost it. This year I interviewed Ginger - tonight - and decided to blog it as record-keeping. So here it is. (My occasional comments are in parentheses.)

How old are you? Four.

What is your favorite color? Blue. Actually, all light colors.

Who are your favorite friends? Jack, Lizzie, Charlotte, James and my friends at school. And I love the Strattons. Every friend I have. And every cousin. (That just about covers it.)

What do you like to do? Draw, do puzzles and watch TV. And be in the bath. (Also computer games, sorting colored rocks, pretend and real cooking. She likes to be where I am, either doing something together or at least side by side.)

What shows do you like? Dora, Diego and Mary Poppins. My favorite channels are Nick Jr., Sprout and Qubo. (And she loves the Wiggles.)

If you could make up the funnest day, what would you do? Play games, have parties, and have two baths - one in the morning and one in the afternoon and one at night, that's two - and stay in the bath a long time and have twice as much toys and go to the playground or the gym and playing with Poppy for a long long time in her room.

I thought you wanted to give Poppy to another family (this was confided earlier this afternoon amid tears during a blood sugar crash.) Well I just realized she's really really fun.

What's the difference between boys and girls? Girls talk like this (normal voice) and boys talk like this (deep voice.) And old people talk like this - "Now, go on now." (gravelly deep voice - Hazel starting to giggle.) And Moms and Dads speak mom-ish and dad-ish (Hazel giggling greatly now.)

What foods do you like? Pizza, chocolate ice cream, chocolate cake, meat, and of course all different kinds of cupcakes. (Also chips & salsa, hot dogs, cherries, cereal, broccoli, chicken nuggets and eggs.)

What places do you like to go? On walks with our family, the theater where we saw Mary Poppins with Dad, Grandma's house - both Grandmas, the Strattons' house.

(At this point Hazel was dying to be part of the interview and wanted to ask a question) Ginger, what is your favorite time? When it's time to go somewhere fun, time to brush teeth (really?), and bathtime.

What are your favorite books? The Kiss that Missed (she just got it yesterday for her birthday), Knuffle Bunny, Library Lion and Hazel's and my baby books.

What toys do you like to play with? Cars, Blokus and Zingo. (Also dolls, blocks, toy food and new wooden train set.)

Tell me about your favorite animals. I like the stingray best because it stings with its tail and it's really amazing. And the starfish is really cool because he has eyes on each of his legs and arms. And the legs grow in if he loses a leg and the eye grows in with it. (Preschool just had a visitor "expert" from an aquarium.)

What do you want to be when you grow up? Either a doctor or a teenager.

You know you can be both - a teenager first and then a doctor. Um, well, Mom, I'll think about it and let you know what I choose. (In that case I prefer a doctor.)
I would have liked to ask more thought-provoking questions that reveal the workings of her mind, but I didn't have any off the top of my head. Suggestions? This could be a several-day interview. I'd love to make it really worthwhile.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

"Just Like a Real College Person"

Hazel is obsessed with college. She's five. BUT. Last fall our favorite babysitter went away to college so we had some explaining to do. We gave her the five-year-old version, from admissions to graduation, and her mind opened up to life beyond kindergarten. She would occasionally ask me a question about college in general ("What do college people like to eat?") or my time in college ("Mom, did you miss me when you were at college?"). Because of her fascination, I've started telling more stories about my college years and she is always interested.

Then in December her oldest cousin, a high school senior, was accepted to William & Mary, and there was a lot of hubbub around our house about it. Good for him, we're so proud, can't believe he's already 18, he'll be closer to us, it's so exciting, etc. After Christmas, that cousin and the rest of his family came to visit, and the girls referred to him exclusively as Mr. College Man* (and still do.)

Hazel, with her very tender heart, is especially focused on the aspect of college as the first time a child leaves home for good. Leaves. Goes and lives somewhere else without their family. She is emphatic that she wants to go to college in Virginia so she can always be near me. I just smile and let that idea linger as long as it will (can I get that notarized?)

Last Sunday during church Hazel nudged me, and with tears in her eyes showed me this picture she had drawn:In case you can't tell, it is her leaving for college, and all of us so sad because we will miss her. I pulled her close to me and let the tears run down her face. I kissed her head and told her not to forget her tender heart, so she added it in. Just between you and me, I don't need this. It is hard enough to watch her go to kindergarten, to have friends I don't know, to go up a shoe size. Every growth is heartwrenchingly bittersweet and I'm just not ready to think about that most poignant of days when she will go off, grown up, and be glad to be gone.

But I don't tell her that. Don't have to; she knows it. It's all there in the drawing. I just hug her and tell her I'm glad for the time we have (12 more years and ticking away), and tell her how fun college is.

So the next day I was cleaning the kitchen and I asked her to clean the sink in the nearby bathroom. I gave her a spray bottle of cleaner and some paper towels. She asked to have her hair up in a ponytail. She moved out the stepstools and all the stuff on the sink and started spraying and wiping. "Hey Mom," she said, "it's like I'm in my own apartment!"

"Uh, yeah, I guess so."

"It's like this is my apartment and I'm cleaning it. Look, I'm just like a real college person!"

Of course anyone who lived with roommates in college knows that's not at all like a real college person, but at the moment it was profound. She gets it, she has a vision for her life, a real vision. She's moved out of I-wanna-be-a-princess-butterfly to I-wanna-be-a-college-person. And with role models to look up to, time to work through her feelings, a ponytail, a paper towel and spray bottle in hand, I guess she's on her way.

*My sister wrote a super blog post about her son turning 18. Not sappy stuff, very practical, about what an 18-year-old needs to know about being a grown-up. An excellent preview for those of us in the early childhood trenches.

Friday, January 14, 2011

New Tricks. As Promised.

As mentioned, the Popster has some new tricks up her sleeve. It's like a trick explosion around here, and they're likely to be old news by her 9-month mark in nine days so here goes.

Trick #1 Clapping - This was her first learned trick a few weeks ago and she is an expert at it. It was her favorite trick for awhile but has been surpassed by #3.

Trick #2 High Five - At first she seemed a bit amazed each time we praised her for touching our hands, but she soon caught on and is a high-fiving maniac. If she likes you.

Trick #3 Saying "Hi" - She picked this one up fast fast fast. When we enter or leave a room, say "hi" with a wave, "bye" with or without a wave, or "goodnight", she waves big with her elbow and/or wrist and says "Aye" or often "Aye Dada" because we model "Hi Mama" or "Hi Dada" a lot. Sometimes we get "Bye." She usually does it unsolicited these days and loves the reactions we give her. It is dang cute to see such a little critter waving "hi."

Here are some videos of the above. (I upload videos to the computer just seldom enough to have to relearn how to do it each time. We have gotten a new main computer since last time, without the software I usually use, so I'd like to give myself props for figuring it out. Note to self: I either need to write myself a tutorial or upload videos more often.)

Now to the BIG TRICK:

Trick #4 Crawling - Poppy was on the verge of crawling for about 6 weeks. She was mobile in an unpredictable way during that time. I would put her down and she would somehow move from one place to another several feet away but I could never exactly nail down how she did it; there was no one maneuver but rather a complex choreography not unlike THIS.

But two days ago she got it. She put it all together and moved those knees and hands in sync and voila, we got this:

The next day (yesterday), she was going the distance. Check it out, that's a workout moving forward along hard wood floors. But she is a genius, you know.

Upcoming Tricks
- She is well on her way to signing "more" and "alldone", and pointing on cue to nose, teeth and ears. And she has cut her third tooth. Genius, I tell you!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Goals Schmoals and Other Stuff

Aah, New Year's resolutions. Don't do 'em, never have. I don't even like goal-setting, thanks to the backfiring efforts of the Young Women's program. My life has ebbs and flows of productivity, motivation, and energy, and those can never be tied to the calendar, so, as a friend put it, "I just try my best every day."

But this year a small crest of motivation happens to coincide with the turn of January, so I've got a couple things to write about. Some are changes, some are accomplishments, and some are just things I feel like mentioning.

Zero to Two-and-a-Half in Just Over a Year - Last night I finished Ginger's baby book. I was going to finish it in time for Christmas but that didn't happen. Before that, I was going to finish it before Poppy was born. Oops. Hazel has a book I made about her first year, and both girls love to look at it. I like it, too, but all I see are what I wish I'd done differently. So before Poppy was born I started a rather ambitious, comprehensive book for Ginger, got about 80% done, then stopped. I did a final push these last two weeks, hoping to get it done in time for Ginger's FOURTH birthday on the 23rd of this month, and finally stayed up until 1 am last night to finish, upload and publish (on Blurb.)

Since I have four years of pictures it was hard to know where to stop, so I asked Ed for his opinion. "Two-and-a-half," he answered definitively. "That's when they stop being a baby." I said that sounded good, and it turned out to be just right. Not only was that about my breaking point last night, but also around that age Ginger started to look less like a toddler and more like she does now. Wish you could see the book? Don't worry, if you live within striking distance of me you will see it sometime. I love to show off my Blurb creations. But if you don't, here's a 15-page preview (the whole book is 98 pages.)

Eat My Veggies - It's no secret, I've got some weight to lose. I did great a few years ago, then tapered off a bit, then got pregnant, then fell into survival mode and all food-tracking went out the window. I don't feel ready for a program, or worse, a diet, but I do feel ready to do something. Which is why my Jan/Feb issue of Cooking Light was so perfect to read. This year, the entire Cooking Light staff is making and taking a 12 Healthy Habits Challenge (12HH.) Each month they will do a feature on a different healthy habit they are all adopting, with features on a few specific people. The January habit is to eat three more vegetables a day. Which, if I am honest, some days would bring my total to four. OK, three.

But as I read, I felt inspired. It's a baby step. It's totally achievable. It only takes a little more time and effort (face it, produce is a little more work than Ritz crackers.) It's hard in the winter to find something good, but not impossible. I told the girls about this goal, and then explained what a goal is, and they shocked me by jumping on board. "We want to do the goal, Mom! Give me some broccoli!" I exaggerate not. So that's it, the girls and I are eating more veggies and fruit, too. And anyone who has changed eating habits knows that success begets success and healthy eating begets healthy eating. No one has told me I can't have See's peanut brittle or that chocolate swirl bread that just came out of the oven. I just have to eat more veggies. EAT MORE - that's a goal I can work on. (By the way, I've lost 1.5 lbs in two weeks with my new habit. Baby steps.)

Healthy Glow - As with my health habits, my dedication to skin care has been variable over the years. I'd get on board with some great - and expensive - regimen, then back off when I got sick, too busy, or too poor. I used to have great skin. Until I didn't. Not sure when that happened. Sometime during the fog of the last five years, maybe? Fact is, I look terrible. I'm splotchy, I'm wrinkly, I'm puffy. I'm AGING! I do wash my face and moisturize with an SPF 15, but that is it. When one of them runs out and I enter the face-stuff aisle at Target I glaze over. I know I should be using some of this other kind of stuff, but who knows what it all is?

This week I took charge (a little.) I like Olay products so I went to their website. I took their very nice survey/tutorial that is supposed to "take the guesswork out of skincare" (thank you!) and offer suggestions tailored for your skin. You answer friendly multiple-choices about your skin type, priorities and concerns and they tell you the products you should use and how. Kudos to their techie, by the way. Loved the web experience. I was already committed to improving my skin by complicating my regimen, but I didn't know how. I took the suggestions, bought the products, and at least feel like I'm taking a little better care of myself. It's only been a day, so I can't speak to the results, but it can't be worse than what I was doing before. Or rather, what I wasn't.

New Tricks - Poppy has developed some serious new tricks in the last few weeks. She's changing so fast I don't think we can wait for the 9-month post. But I don't want to give it all away in a listy post like this. Just a reminder to myself to post some vids of this amazing little munchkin.

Family Circle
- Who else out there gets this magazine? At first I started getting it for the recipes - they have some pretty good ones, especially quick-easy-healthy-yummy dinners. Then I started reading some of their health/beauty/shopping features. Interesting enough. Then I started to read everything else, like their feature articles, and I realized they have been holding back.

You see it on the checkstand, it always has a fabulous-looking food on the front, like cinnamon rolls or lasagna. Admittedly, that's why I bought it. Must be what sells it. But now why I get it is for the articles. Family Circle is geared towards families of tweens and teens, and the articles reflect that. Topics include bullying, discipline, lying, sexting, body image, college preparedness, summer jobs, volunteering, and everything else parenting through adolescence brings. Serious stuff. Stuff that is not otherwise on my radar. Stuff I have never thought about. Stuff that is going to sneak up on me sooner than later and pull the rug out from under my naive feet unless I get a clue. I know nothing can prepare me entirely for the unique job of raising my girls, but a monthly reminder of what may lie ahead helps. You should see Ed's face when I tell him some of the things I read. And I thought I was naive.

I guess that's it for now. We are having a sick day/snow day at home and I have made everyone take a nap. Which means now I am going to, too!

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Email to Ed

(I really did send this to him. After 10 years, I'm giving up subtle entirely.)

Dear Mr. Hickman,

This is to remind you that your wife's birthday is 28 days, or 4 weeks, away. She has maintained, updated, and prioritized an extensive wish list that you may take advantage of. Know that items rated "highest" are most wanted, "high" are also much wanted. Some items are noted as "4-for-3" which means if you order any 4 of them, you get the least expensive free. Amazon is known for quick shipping but you should order birthday items at least 1 1/2 weeks ahead of time to be certain. Your wife also loves chocolate and has spelled out her ideal gift box in this blog post, which also includes the link to order it.

It is recommended that you set yourself a reminder for January 21 or 22, which is about a week and a half before her birthday, to do some thinking and shopping. Please flag this email for quick reference. Furthermore, know that any items obtained in exchange for the Christmas gifts you said you would return count as Christmas gifts, not birthday or Mother's Day gifts. Your timely attention to that issue is greatly appreciated.

Finally, Valentine's Day is a mere 12 days after your wife's birthday. It is a time to ponder and express your love for each other. Some of the gifts on her wish list may do that better than others. Flowers and well-thought-out acts of kindness are also good ideas on that day. January 31 is a good day to start thinking about Valentine's Day. It is common to not think about February dates while still in January, so another Blackberry reminder is recommended.

Thank you for your attention to these crucial matters.

K. Hickman
Hickman Family Administrator
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